Rockwell Files: Gary Cooper Puts On a Good Face

In 1930, Norman Rockwell traveled to California on the advice of his lawyer, who wanted the artist out of his home state of Vermont while he, the lawyer, settled a contract lawsuit with another magazine.

Rockwell stayed with friends who lived near Hollywood. He was fascinated by the extras and out-of-work actors he saw on the streets. Back home, he relied on neighbors for his models. Here, if he needed any type of face or character, he only had to walk around town to find what he wanted.

But when he got the idea for this cover, he asked the friend he was visiting to help him find a cowboy actor. Rockwell was stunned when Paramount Studios offered the services of their mega-star Gary Cooper.

When Cooper showed up for the modeling session, Rockwell later wrote, he filled the doorway, making Rockwell keenly aware of his own “narrow shoulders and puny arms.” But during three days of modeling, Cooper proved to be easy-going, very cooperative, and a practical joker who brought along exploding matches and ash trays that jumped when they were touched.

Gary Cooper as the Texan by Norman Rockwell, May 24, 1930. (Norman Rockwell / SEPS)

Probably in gratitude to Paramount, Rockwell put the name of Cooper’s latest movie, The Texan, on the slate in the background. The movie premiered shortly before this issue appeared on the newsstands.

Movie stars weren’t the only people who impressed Rockwell in California. He also met a school teacher there, Mary Barstow, who later returned east with him as his new wife.

Featured image: Norman Rockwell / SEPS

This article is featured in the March/April 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.